Maybe it’s intellectually irresponsible, but on the way to the post office I listen to country. There’s something about the “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” lyrics that ring truer than the push notifications from my NPR app. Pour me somethin’ tall and strong. Make it a Hurricane before I go insane. I stand a good ten feet back as I dictate the zip code on the package to the masked man behind the counter. Everything comes out shouty and muffled through my own mask. Smile. I’ve got to remember to smile, even though he can’t see my mouth. It still does something through the eyes.
It’s masks I’m shipping, too—a box of the baby blue medical kind that already went out of fashion a week ago—to my aunt who works in home healthcare. The masks have been on a shelf in my basement for almost a year. Dad is a casual prepper of the Florida variety and sends me this sort of thing all the time. He’s the guy who has silver buried somewhere, gold being too obvious.
(Also on my basement shelf: a yellow envelope with some small tablets inside. Written on the outside in dad’s hand: Take in case of nuclear fallout. Are they iodine, or cyanide? They arrived with the masks. I did not think I would ever need to use either.)
My friend the poet is trying to see how long she can hold out before going to the grocery store. I stop by on the way home and she gives me a big wave from the porch. We are both backwoods girls from birth, raised to give a good wave. But somehow I doubt she’s listening to the same cabana-country that I am these days.
On the sidewalk between us, I line up my offerings: artichoke, avocado, mango, rolls, coffee in a tin. The poet tells me she’s been tapping into her spiritual side. God is good, she’s decided. She has to say this loudly, so I can hear it from where I’ve settled in on the hood of my car. Then she reads to me from her grandmother’s devotional until it starts to rain.
I try praying, but I don’t feel bad off enough to really get in my groove. I decide to wait until things get worse—just doing my part to flatten the curve of requests.
Speaking of requests: some friends have asked us to be in their cell. This is like a temporary cult, where you agree to distance from everything and everyone except for the members of your prearranged group. Isolation, but together!
Is this a good idea? My wife, the introvert, could go either way.
I tell her: humans need eight hugs a day for maintenance, twelve for growth. When I say humans need, I mean I need. Are you up to this? Are you ready, willing, and able to assist in the event of an emergency?
I ask my mom what she thinks we should do. She’s of the mind that I should hold women less, generally.
What would Jimmy Buffet do?
The neighbors want to talk to us for the first time since we moved in. They offer me arugula from their garden. I want to say, I’m good, I still go to the grocery store. Instead, I ask them something I’ve been wondering for five years. What is the name of your cat who naps every day in my yard? I want to be able to speak to this cat more personally. I’ve had designs on this cat. And then comes the NPR notification: Tiger At Zoo Contracts Coronavirus, Raising Questions About Household Pets.
The disposable cameras arrive! I know, I have a camera on my phone. But these are set apart, intentional. They are meant to take photos only of things that capture interest During This Time. One is for me and one is for my friend the novelist, so I take it to her house.
She tells me that when she first met her husband, she fell in love with his spontaneity. He once spent all night biking every empty street in town in the dark. Now, their young daughter begs him to repeat the same lines to her every night before she can fall asleep.
I relate to the baby. Oh, that repetition could soothe us anymore.
I take photos of things that capture my interest During This Time. In this one, all the mirrors in the house are lying on our bed. (Someone said to remove anything breakable from the walls in case of an aftershock. It was my first earthquake.) On a Zoom call, the novelist says she has not taken any photos yet. She does not wish to capture sadness or pain. But just having the camera, she says, opens up a world of possibilities. Now, she is always searching for something worth taking a picture of.
My wife makes margaritas in to-go cups and we walk around the neighborhood at dusk, pretending we’re in New Orleans where we got married. I carry my camera. Look at us: the freedom, the spontaneity! We’ve been drinking only margaritas, piña coladas, rum and sodas. We’ve been talking of summer as though it’s already here. The night is quiet enough to hear the wind in the new leaves. Then, a couple blocks away, some teenagers have plugged in their amps and are putting on a backyard concert. People come out of their houses to applaud. From somewhere else, a neighbor shouts a request—The Beach Boys. They must feel it too, that the air is warm. That we can still hear one another. “Don’t Worry Baby” starts playing.
Natalie Disney earned her MFA in creative writing from Boise State University, where she served as Associate Editor of The Idaho Review. Her work has been published in The Florida Review, The Mississippi Review, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the PEN America Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. She is a recipient of the 2017 Glenn Balch Award for fiction. She teaches writing at The Cabin and BSU and is at work on her first novel.
Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman. This is the indulgent, nostalgic narrative to escape to on the cusp of summer: the 1980s Italian countryside, a lush remembrance of romance and longing.
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. I consider Donna Tartt a most artful architect of storytelling; the construction of each sentence is only overshadowed by the intelligence, beauty, and tragedy of the dream as a whole.